Victoria ranch owners say they want water dispute to weigh all sides

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

May 7, 2014 at 12:07 a.m.

D.M. O'Connor Ranches of Texas, which became financially involved in a water dispute with Texas Commission of Environmental Quality in 2009, is again taking a stand against what it claims is a bad move for the bays.

The Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority filed a petition in Travis County District Court to speed up a decision allowing the river authority to build one or more reservoirs in Calhoun County.

At issue is GBRA's long-standing plan to build reservoirs in Calhoun County and who has the legal claim to the water that would be used to fill those reservoirs.

Officials at the San Antonio Water System say the water that they pump out of the ground, use, clean and put into the San Antonio River is theirs.

But GBRA says its historic water rights depend on the water the San Antonio Water System puts into the river.

GBRA claims a San Antonio Water System application to TCEQ for ownership of the city's reclaimed water jeopardizes the authority's water rights. The San Antonio River flows into the Guadalupe River, which flows into the San Antonio Bay.

"SAWS Bed and Banks application could potentially cast a cloud on whether we have that water," GBRA spokeswoman LaMarriol Smith said.

Under the river authority's petition, a judge will determine whether the San Antonio Water System's request to the state violates the river authority's previously established water rights, a decision that would otherwise fall to the state.

"For the economic well-being of coastal entities and for the survival of our bays and estuaries, freshwater must be allowed to flow from our rivers. GBRA has lost sight of their responsibility to maintain the water for everyone in our basin and needs to stop this clandestine legal approach," Joe Bland, a spokesman for D.M. O'Connor Ranches, read from a written statement.

D.M. O'Connor Ranches has had its hands in water disputes before. The coalition helped fund a legal battle against the state in 2009, claiming the state violated the Endangered Species Act by allowing too much water to be taken out of the Guadalupe River Basin, which feeds the whooping cranes' wintering grounds.

"We believe that at some point in the future - and possibly the near future - the state is going to mandate that certain quantities of water be put into the river for environmental flow purposes," San Antonio Water System's spokesman Greg Flores III said. "We are trying to get ahead of the game and show that we are voluntarily willing to contribute this amount today for those in-stream uses."

But GBRA officials say the San Antonio Water System's move for ownership of its reclaimed water puts GBRA reservoir projects and funding for those projects at risk. Reservoirs that GBRA says are needed now because of industrial and population growth along the basin.

The river authority claims the petition it filed in Travis County District Court is necessary because a state decision on the San Antonio Water System's request for ownership of 50,000 acre-feet of its wastewater could take years - years that GBRA could be using to build the reservoirs.

A petition will expedite what could be a drawn-out state decision, but it will also close doors on what would otherwise be a public process, Bland said.

"Ramifications of this petition could undermine the authority of the TCEQ, which needs to maintain its authority over GBRA," Bland read from a written statement. "There are not enough facts known at this time of GBRA's ultimate plans for the use of this water. It cannot yet be determined whether or not their strategy is to protect this water for use within our area or whether this is just another attempt to sell this water and pipeline it out of this region."



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